The Atlanta Falcons had a clear plan heading into the season, whether you believed it was a good one or not. They would roll with Desmond Ridder and hope he could prove to be the long-term starting quarterback, and if not, they would turn to Taylor Heinicke. Pretty cut and dry.
In practice, though, the quarterback situation has been anything but cut and dry. The Falcons have seen Ridder stumble and eventually benched him at halftime against the Titans in favor of Heinicke, who was the starter for 2.5 games before the Falcons turned back to Ridder. An embarrassing performance against the Carolina Panthers got Ridder benched again the following week, and Heinicke turned in one really solid performance with a couple of lucky breaks against the Colts into an abysmal one against the Bears. Heinicke is also now dealing with what appears to be an aggravation of his existing ankle injury heading into the season finale.
Arthur Smith said Taylor Heinicke is going to do "everything he can" to play Sunday, they'll have to monitor his ankle injury throughout the week, though.— Tori McElhaney (@tori_mcelhaney) January 1, 2024
That means one of the league’s messier quarterback situations—and that is really saying something this season—will remain a bit messy until the very end. If Heinicke can go, there’s a better-than-decent chance he deals with an aggravation and we see Ridder again. If he can’t go, Ridder will get one final shot to prove he should stick as the backup quarterback in 2024, which is probably about all he can hope for. Either way, the Falcons will wind down a year defined by chaos and turnovers at quarterback with a little more chaos, but hopefully zero turnovers against the Saints.
The caliber of play and the in-and-out-of-the-lineup carousel at quarterback makes it evident how badly the Falcons need to get the position right next year, something they’ve been driving home for two calendar years now. With Russell Wilson and possibly Kirk Cousins set to become available via free agency, Justin Fields and maybe Kyler Murray available in the trade market, and a draft class with more than a few intriguing quarterbacks, they’ll be able to find someone to replace and hopefully upgrade on Ridder and Heinicke. Whether it’s Jayden Daniels or Michael Penix Jr. or Fields or Wilson remains to be seen, but getting the quarterback wrong again in 2024 will likely doom the Falcons. Again.
For now, we’ll wait to see whether Heinicke’s ankle responds well and he’s able to go Sunday, with the hope that if he is he can deliver the solid level of play we saw from him against Minnesota, Tennessee, and Indianapolis rather than the tepid-to-disastrous play we saw against Arizona and Chicago. If it’s not him, well, we’ll ride that Riddercoaster one final time before the 2023 season is blessedly over.